What is Bartkira? Not easily unpacked, it is a project made up of interconnected parts, one part is a massively open-participation web-based art project, part publication, part traveling exhibition all organized around a smart, legally dodgy, hilarious cultural mash-up.
Wow. This totally sounds like something Printeresting might have dreamed up in our best fever dream. Needless to say I love everything about this project.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What is Bartkira? It’s a portmanteau of Akira and The Simpsons, arguable the two of the early 90’s most profound popular works, whose effect on the popular culture landscape is entirely visible today. The Simpson‘s America’s beloved animated family sitcom needs no real introduction here. Akira is a opus work of manga, created by Katsuhiro Otomo in the early 80s. It’s plot set in a dark futuristic version of Tokyo revolves around the fate of two young friends in a biker gang who stumble upon an government conspiracy: psychic powers, complex plot machinations, and massive destruction ensues. The whole series was awkwardly shrunk into a feature length anime in 1988. Both the book and movie feature an amazingly detailed and beautifully rendered world, which because of it’s wide American distribution, was for many viewers a primer to the worlds of manga and anime.
Bartkira is the brainchild of two artists James Harvey & Ryan Humphrey. And you can see Humphrey’s lovely drawings that inspired the project above and in more detail here. Harvey responding to Humphrey artwork , developed an folly into a project of Moby Dick proportions- he invited artists and illustrators the world over to participate in a page-by-page recreation of the Akira manga interchanging the characters from The Simpsons for those in the original story. To provide some context, the Akira manga series spans 6 volumes and weighs in at 2000+ pages, and is every bit as much of a sprawling epic as The Simpsons. The logistics of how this project works are spelled out on the Bartkira site, basically you can contribute six pages at a time, and the hundreds of artists have sent work to move the project impossibly closer to completion are true testament to the open source nature of the project.
The first collected volume was published in 2014.
And the book and original art submissions traveled as an exhibition for the following year.
You might be thinking, amazing, sure – but why write about it here? What does this have to do with the parameters of the Ghost confluence?
Believe it or not, this project is conceptually so generative and weirdly on-point for our critical inquiry this month. The question, I keep returning to is what exactly is a ghost print? See the Ghost publication for my essay on the subject. Technically, it’s a process whereby you pull a print and then pull another print – knowing that the second time you have intentionally approached the process incorrectly knowing that the results will be unexpected.
This delightful whisper-down-the-lane mash-up operates with a similar prompt – it’s a recreation, a second iteration, but a joker has been slipped into the deck. Like The Grey Album, two great works, across time and creative space have been put into an improbable collision – but with a reverence that only a true fan can bring to the procedure. The whimsical mash-up releases layers and layers of cultural signifiers, like free radicals they join and collide in unexpected ways, producing not just an amazing collaborative work of art, but an unexpected portrait of both the time in which the original works were made, but also of the time in which they were re-made. Something new and unexpected is produced.
This work is intended as a parody, but in many ways it’s a much more critically interesting project. In an age of endless appropriation the real joy here resides in the endlessly variant hands of the hundreds of artists who have contributed – the artwork is amazing in the ways it is not an exact copy of the original. And like a perpetual motion engine, with three volumes completed this impossible project keeps running toward completion powered by creative generosity. But don’t take my word for it see for yourself.